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when left is right, and the right left behind
the whole is the sum of its partisans
by michelle von euw

When I was a teenager, I was told, "If you're not a liberal when you're 20, then you don't have a heart. If you're not a conservative when you're 40, then you don't have a mind." As someone who considered herself both liberal and in possession of a brain, I was extremely agitated by that statement. I was floored by the whole concept that if I were to retain any intelligence into my later years, I would have to support people like Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

The statement implies that every person with a conscience undergoes some sort of political conversion during the years that they generally establish a career, get married, start a family, buy a house. It implies that college students are idealists who are concerned about, say, the homeless, universal health care, and equality among races and genders. But as we age, we are supposed to turn our focus inward and worry about crime rates, affordable education, and interest rates. As an idealistic 15-year-old who wore a black armband to school to protest the war in Iraq and cried every time she watched Romero, I firmly rejected the fact that the aging process alone would change my views so sharply.

Of course, the events that have occurred on a national level in American politics have added to the confusion over the terms liberal and conservative, and which issues correspond with each of their positions. I'm not even sure what those words mean any more -- President Clinton is assailed as a "liberal" by his Republican opponents, yet when he first ran for the White House, many Democrats feared his policies were too conservative to adequately reflect his party's traditional concerns. In 1991, George Bush received full support of Republicans in Congress when he brought U.S. troops into Iraq to protest Saddam Hussen's actions in Kuwait. War-like aggression at the time appeared to be a pretty clear-cut issue: if you were a Democrat (liberal) you opposed the U.S.'s action; if you were a Republican (conservative), you supported it.

But wait a minute -- during the past several years, President Clinton has led the United States military into similar battles. The same people who praised Bush's decisions were the most vocal opponents to Clinton's actions, while the Congressional liberals who opposed the Iraqi offense were now supporting the President.

No wonder I'm so confused about my own political views - on a national level, the sides keep changing. In the last decade, we went from having a Republican White House and a Democratic Congress to exactly the opposite. While many of the lofty concepts of the parties stayed the same, the actual, day-to-day issues drastically changed.

I almost dread using this because it's already been so overplayed in the media, but the whole Elian Gonzalez case is the perfect example. As long as I can remember, the Republican party has spoken out against the expansion of immigration, against the destruction of the family unit, while supporting strong law enforcement officials who combat unruly and unlawful citizens. For Congressional leaders to suddenly speak out against the reunification of a boy with his father is the most blatant attempt at the exploitation of an issue since the Monica Lewinsky controversy. I want to scream at the TV: "Wait a minute! Aren't you forgetting? You like fathers playing roles in children's lives! You support a strong law enforcement agency! You think that there are already too many illegal aliens slipping through this country's borders!"

The "Oh, it's Cuba" argument doesn't work anymore. First of all, the only people who still fear that Communists will take over the USA have been in a coma for the last ten years. There is no longer a Soviet Union. The wall has been down for more than a decade, and we're currently negotiating trade deals with China and Vietnam. No one is threatened by Castro's proximity to the United States, and the whole paranoia of "Communists in our backyard" is obsolete. Our government routinely sends people who have been tortured and jailed in their homelands back to those countries, which are run by extreme dictators who giggle at the idea of democracy. Why should this child be an exception, just to serve as a political trophy? It's not as if anyone has said that Elian's life in Cuba was a hardship. And we are supposed to believe that a six-year-old boy, who by all accounts has a stable and secure home life in Cuba, is going to be better off in a poor section of Miami with his out-of-work great uncle than he would with his own family?

The whole idea of forcing U.S. citizenship on someone who has never asked for it is pretty insane. A friend of mine is an international student advisor, and she's told me that the people who want to become U.S. citizens have to go through a grueling process that can take as long as ten years. Asylum is rarely granted, and when it is, there must be proof of immediate danger. Candidates from certain countries are awarded preference over those from other places -- a Cuban, for example, has a much better chance of being granted asylum than a Haitian. The Republicans aren't the only ones support citizenship for the six-year-old -- Vice President Gore and Hillary Clinton also have jumped on the "grant Elian's family citizenship" bandwagon, in hopes of attracting more voters. (Although, with the majority of Americans outside Little Havana supporting Elian's return to Cuba, it almost seems like political suicide to take this stance.)

The truth is, I'm not the idealist I was back in high school. I have disagreed with the President's actions many times in his tenure, but I have supported him publicly, mainly because for me he is better than the alternative, which has grown increasingly more disruptive and less tolerant. There are still issues I still feel strongly about, but I have to be honest: I've never worn a black armband to work in support of them.


Originally from Boston, Michelle is a writer, editor, instructor, obsessive sports fan, loud talker, quick laugher, new mom, and chances are, she watches more television than you do. Follow her on Twitter at michellevoneuw

more about michelle von euw


caught in the balance
a tale of one city
by michelle von euw
topic: general
published: 11.8.04

what a difference a decade makes
by michelle von euw
topic: general
published: 12.11.09


jeffrey walker
5.10.00 @ 10:21a

Interest in politics is waning because these jokers are too busy trying to get cool three-second sound bites for the news rather than make any serious stands. I don't want either of the available presidential candidates even mowing the lawn of the White House. Gimme more third party guys who are so off the cuff that nobody knows where they're coming from. I want more Ventura. I think Ric Flair is running for governor of my birth state of N.C. Alec Baldwin has mentioned running for office. And I, for one, am all for it. Think of it this way - the more entertainers are in office, the LESS television you'll have to watch to stay fully informed. The nightly news and Entertainment Tonight will become virtually identical!

joe procopio
5.10.00 @ 10:46a

I agree with Jeff (although Ric Flair is not running for anything in NC, it's Mike Easley and Richard Vinroot). I bought into Keyes on the right (even though some of his stands weren't mine) just because he was so alternative and way too intelligent to be president. On the left, the outsiders get kookier than Keyes. We need more third party politics, for sure, but look at how the reform party imploded this year, what next?

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